Most people want to be successful. I know I do. However, many are not clear on what success actually means or looks like for them. At the age of nearly 30 I realised I had been chasing a success that I had never really thought about. Until then I had adopted the views society had been selling me, which meant getting a good job, making representative sport teams, earning good money and back then, getting married. I’m glad that I had at least failed on that last count (I only got married at 36).
Each of us might define success differently, and there are some frameworks to help in doing so. What’s important is that we don’t arrive at so-called success, only to realise that it is not what we thought it would be (like with myself), or that we discover it’s our parents, societies or someone else’s idea of success that we’re arrived at. I’ve coached more than a handful of international athletes who have achieved a lifelong dream of reaching the highest level of their sport, only to discover that it was not the wonderful experience they thought it would be.
A traditional goal-setting approach suggests that we define what we want in terms of a measurable end or outcome goal, and that we also determine the smaller steps or process goals that we need to achieve along the way towards that outcome. These outcome and process goals define WHAT we want, but this is not enough. The acid test of the value of these goal in our lives is to ask WHY you want to achieve them?
For example, you might want to be rich, which for those living below the breadline is totally understandable. For those above the breadline, meaning those who have a roof over their head and can afford three meals a day, why would you want to be rich? Subconsciously, many people don’t actually want to be rich, they want what they think rich people have. They feel the money will provide them things like security, freedom, happiness, contentment joy, choice, and maybe even love. In reality, wealthy people do not automatically have more of these things than their counterparts in middle or even low-income groups. Things like freedom, joy, happiness and contentment are all inner experiences, and most times, money does not guarantee having them.
Regardless of your age or position in life, it’s useful to question what success looks like for you, checking both what you want, and why you want it? Let’s say you want to make the Indian cricket team or to get a promotion. Great, so why do you want that, what will it give you; money, fame, accomplishment of a dream or whatever else? These are all valid reasons. Then ask again, why do you want money or fame? What will this mean for you, and for the important others in your life? Fame and money alone are very incomplete measures of success. Think fallen stars like Mike Tyson, Hansie Cronje, Lance Armstrong, or the number of actors, musicians and even athletes who have committed suicide through depression, or the wealthy and unhealthy businesspeople who have stress-related heart attacks at an early age.
In understanding the need to accurately define success, I looked specifically at boxer Mike Tyson. He was the undisputed world champion who earned USD300 million in his career. He was also jailed for sexual assault and drink-driving, a confessed drug addict, became bankrupt and in 2005 said, “My whole life has been a waste. I’ve been a failure”. He is a model for the incomplete nature of material success.
When I did the exercise of questioning what success was for me, I realised the things I wanted, such as freedom, contentment, work-life balance and great health were actually available right now. Or maybe after a few simple changes in attitude and habits away – towards those habits that worked for me and reducing those that didn’t. Included could be things like using a phone or computer more for learning and less for entertainment, being grateful for what we have rather than looking at what we didn’t have, being clearer what we say no to (like sweets) and what we say yes to (long-term health), and being better at managing our tendencies for laziness, procrastination and maybe even over-working.
So, what is the success you’re chasing, and why? What milestones do you want to achieve in the future, and what inner experiences do you want today, and/or tomorrow. What will your success mean for the significant others in your life, and maybe even for the world? When the answers to these questions make sense to you, you might well find a well of inspiration and energy arise from within, driving you towards your success, whilst helping you to overcome the inevitable obstacles you will encounter along the way.